Tsolo Munkh, A/W 14/15

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The only time I come even close to questioning my choice to post as little leather as possible on here is when I come across an amazing artist like Tsolmandakh Munkhuu. Tsolmandakh’s A/W 14/15 collection (under the label name of Tsolo Munkh), like all her previous collections, is inspired by Mongolia. Because Tsolmandakh is Mongolian, and therefore she is not appropriating another’s culture for the sake of making money off of those people who think dressing ethnically (i.e. like someone else‘s ethnicity) makes them trendy and enlightened, she has the right to translate the Mongolian culture into fashion. And so, I always love seeing what she comes up with next, and feel like I’m learning a bit about Mongolian culture with every collection. However, according to this and previous collections, being inspired by Mongolian seems to result in using a lot of animal skin, presumably because that is traditionally the main material used for clothing.

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So, the question is, does having, let’s call them, ‘cultural credentials’, make it okay to have a collection where, as Tsolmandakh’s description says, “leather is omnipresent” (really, even the felted wool is apparently made on a honey-combed leather base)? I mean, I have (and know I have) absolutely no right to tell anyone how to interpret their own culture. But, when the clothing being made is fashion and not necessity, and when there are a vast number of non-animal leather-like materials available to designers, isn’t it okay to wish that all designers, no matter what their culture and inspiration, looked at using alternative materials?

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It’s a tricky thing. I know I’ve gone back and forth over the last decade on whether to buy leather shoes. On the one hand, I’m physically repulsed by leather. On the other hand, I have had to throw out many many pairs of non-leather shoes, much more than leather ones, just because other materials don’t last when you’re walking on them as much as I do (I walk everywhere). And so, at least for the animal-friendly shoes I’ve bought and worn, it becomes a matter of waste and environmental impact versus wearing the product of an industry I despise. I can sleep at night after buying a pair of leather shoes if I know how the shoe label treats their leather (i.e. vegetable tanned vs. the more common toxic chemical tanning process), how the shoes are produced (i.e. handmade by ethically treated staff, not mass produced in a factory), and how long they will last (i.e. many many years as opposed to a season). However, I don’t think there’s a strong argument to be made regarding the need for other articles of clothing to be made of leather to reduce overall waste/environmental impact. So, I’d understand if someone thought I was being hypocritical regarding my buying of leather shoes and my extreme distaste for leather clothing, but, for me, it all comes down to both necessity and environmental impact, regardless of the inspiration for the design.

(Edit: This section of the post has been edited due to me realizing the disconnect between two issues I was presenting as similar. I’d rather just talk about my own issues and beliefs than waging in on a discussion that I have no part in. I would emphasize that the previous version of this section as well as this edited one comes solely out of my beliefs as a vegetarian, and not out of any judgment of another’s culture.)

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Anyway, I have no answers. Culture is an extremely important thing, but I also think we have to be more aware of how we treat beings other than ourselves, including non-humans. Not just for obvious reasons, but also for the selfish reason that I want to be able to post all of the work by artists such as Tsolmandakh. As it is, this dilemma is why I’m posting slightly more leather than usual (i.e. the hidden leather in the felted vest), but at the same time hardly any of Tsolmandakh’s new collection. And now I’ll stop talking. After saying that below is one of the best looks I’ve ever seen.

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(Photos via Tsolo Munkh’s Facebook)

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